- Colorado will reopen an investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man killed last summer after police officers violently detained him while he walked home.
- McClain’s death has received renewed attention in recent weeks, amid nationwide protests over police violence against Black Americans.
- McClain died in hospital days after he was stopped by police officers, who placed him in a “carotid control hold.” A medic later injected him with ketamine to sedate him.
- Prosecutors declined last year to charge the officers involved, saying there wasn’t evidence the officers had directly caused McClain’s death.
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Colorado will reopen an investigation into the death of Elijah McClain, a Black man who died after a violent arrest by Aurora police last summer.
Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order on Thursday which directs Attorney General Phil Weiser to investigate and potentially prosecute the three white officers who were initially cleared in 23-year-olds’ death, the Associated Press reported.
“Elijah McClain should be alive today, and we owe it to his family to take this step and elevate the pursuit of justice in his name to a statewide concern,” Polis said in a statement, according to the AP.
Colorado officials were under mounting pressure to re-investigate the McClain’s death, amid growing outrage over prosecutors’ decision not to charge the officers involved.
A nationwide reckoning over racism and police brutality after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 has sparked renewed interest in a number of police killings across the country.
McClain died on August 30, 2019, days after police officers confronted him on a walk home and placed him in a chokehold. A medic then injected him with ketamine to sedate him. The officers detained McClain on August 24, after police received a 911 call describing a “suspicious black male wearing a ski mask, ‘acting weird’ by ‘waving his arms around,'” according to the police department’s incident report.
McClain’s family said he wore the open-face ski mask because he was anemic and would sometimes get cold. They added that he had been listening to music while he walked home from a convenience store, where he had bought bottled tea for a cousin.
Those who knew McClain told Sentinel Colorado that he was a massage therapist and a pacifist, known for being quirky, spiritual, and gentle. The newspaper reported that McClain had taught himself to play guitar and violin as a teen, and would spend his lunch breaks playing his instruments at animal shelters, thinking the music would help calm the animals.
In recent weeks, activists have highlighted those details about McClain, amid renewed demands to hold the officers accountable for McClain’s death. An online petition calling for a new investigation into McClain’s death collected more than 2.7 million signatures as of Thursday.
McClain could be heard on body camera footage crying and struggling to breathe
The Aurora Police Department released more than three hours of footage from the officers’ body cameras. The footage showed that the officers stopped McClain during his walk, but he urged them to leave him alone. The officers then tried to arrest McClain, wrestling him to the ground while he struggled.
Though the body cameras didn’t capture visual footage of the rest of the incident – the police chief said the officers’ cameras were knocked off in the struggle – audio from the cameras revealed that McClain wept, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe, and told officers he had just been trying to get home and wasn’t a threat.
“I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me?” McClain could be heard saying. “I don’t even kill flies. I don’t eat meat.”
The footage embedded below may be disturbing to some viewers.
The officers told investigators they tackled McClain to the ground because he had reached for one of the officers’ guns. The officers then placed him in a “carotid control hold,” meaning a technique in which officers apply pressure to the sides of a person’s neck to restrict blood flow to the brain. The move has since been banned in Aurora, as well as other places around the country.
The police incident report said medics from the fire department arrived and believed McClain was “showing signs of excited delirium by his appearance and his aggression,” and sedated McClain with ketamine. One medic injected 500 milligrams of the drug into his shoulder.
The medic noticed shortly afterward that McClain’s “chest was not rising on his own, and he did not have a pulse.” The medics started CPR and rushed him to the hospital, where he was declared brain dead on August 27.
McClain was never accused of a crime.
The Adams County Coroner’s Office listed McClain’s death as “undetermined” and the pathologist, Dr. Stephen Cina, listed several potential factors the could have caused McClain’s death, including an “unexpected reaction” to the ketamine.
Cina said there were no signs of traumatic asphyxiation or injuries to the neck, larynx, or hyoid bone from the carotid hold. He added that the death could have been a homicide, but he could not determine which cause of death was most likely.
“Most likely the decedent’s physical exertion contributed to death. It is unclear if the officers’ actions contributed as well,” Cina wrote.
Local and state officials are pushing for a new investigation, but the prosecutor said he stands behind his decision not to charge the officers
The officers involved in McClain’s death – Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema – were placed on administrative leave immediately after the death, but were later put back on normal duty, Sentinel Colorado reported.
Adams County prosecutors announced last November they would not charge any of the officers or the medics involved in McClain’s death, arguing there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers had used “unjustified” force.
Prosecutors previously cleared the officers involved in McClain’s death. But since June 7, their office has received thousands of emails and hundreds of voicemails inquiring about McClain, a spokesperson told Sentinel Colorado.
On Wednesday, Polis said state officials were looking into the matter and “assessing next steps.”
“Public confidence in our law enforcement process is incredibly important now more than ever. A fair and objective process are from real or perceived bias for investigating officer-involved killings is critical,” Polis said in a tweet. “I am hearing from many Coloradans who have expressed concerns with the investigation of Elijah McClain’s death.”
On Thursday, District Attorney Dave Young released a statement explaining his decision not to charge the officers, calling McClain’s death “both tragic and unnecessary,” but arguing that the pathologist was “unable to conclude that the actions of any law enforcement officer caused Mr. McClain’s death.”
Meanwhile, Aurora’s city council has sought an independent investigation, though officials have been criticised for originally hiring a firm run by a former police officer.
Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said in a statement on Wednesday he’s called for a special meeting on July 6 to vote both on authorizing an independent investigation, and who will conduct the investigation.
“We need to bring closure to this tragic incident by making sure every aspect of it is thoroughly investigated,” Coffman said.
Sarah Al-Arshani contributed to this report.
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